Solar Best Practices for Under-Resourced Communities:
A Comparative Landscape Analysis

With funding from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Clean Energy States Alliance is working with Alabama A&M University, the Partnership for Southern Equity/Advancing Equity and Opportunity, and the University of Michigan School for Environment & Sustainability to research, write, and disseminate a report on the solar landscape in under-resourced communities. A communications firm will be engaged to maximize visibility and dissemination of the report’s key findings. Short bios of the project team are listed below.

The report will aim to identify the most useful strategies for advancing solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies in ways that benefit under-resourced communities. The need for a best practices scan surfaced at an early-2018 workshop of grantees and thought leaders co-convened by the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Solutions Project on the topic of community-owned and community-determined solar. 

Background

For solar to reach its full potential, access to PV by under-resourced communities needs to happen now. PV costs have fallen dramatically, making it cost-effective in many locations. It can save consumers money, and no one needs reduced energy costs more than low- and moderate-income (LMI) consumers.LMI Solar Installers4

But there are significant obstacles to deploying solar in under-resourced communities and doing so in ways that are economically inclusive. LMI renters can have difficulty benefitting from solar; LMI homeowners with below-average credit scores or problematic roofs are often unable to install PV; most LMI households cannot directly use the federal residential tax credit; federal housing assistance programs can limit LMI households’ ability to benefit financially; and LMI households could be harmed by long-term solar contracts that pose financial risks if utility solar programs or electricity rates change.Solar can be integrated into LMI housing and community facilities as well as into anti-poverty programs to reduce energy costs, increase resilience, and improve equity. Low-cost solar can be an entry point for developing programs that deliver inclusive wealth-building opportunities for LMI communities. (Photo credit: Elevate Energy)

Project Plan

The project team will undertake research and interviews to produce a report that will form a strong basis for concrete action to advance LMI solar by providing guidance to philanthropic foundations, state and municipal governments, utilities, community groups, advocates for LMI populations, and the solar industry. The team will:

  • Identify and assess existing state-based and community-based solar programs and determine their real-world advantages and disadvantages.
  • Gain insights and learning from the experiences of organizations that have deep roots in LMI communities and are actively engaged in efforts to overcome inequality and advance energy equity. We will ask these organization to help identify issues that are not being addressed adequately through current programs and funding initiatives.
  • Interview a large number of individuals from across the country with diverse experiences and views on PV market expansion, solar equity, and effective solar programs.

The final report is tentatively scheduled to be released in Fall 2019. It will produce recommendations that answer the following questions:

  • How can philanthropic foundations best deploy resources to advance solar in ways that provide meaningful benefits for under-resourced communities?
  • Which LMI solar programs and strategies should state and municipal governments and utilities implement, independently or in cooperation, to benefit LMI communities?
  • How can energy equity organizations and community groups best advance solar in ways that benefit their constituencies?
  • How can clean energy advocates, foundations, and the solar industry engage and more effectively work with energy equity organizations and community groups to advance solar in under-resourced communities?

The Project Research Team 

  • Chandra Farley is Director of the Just Energy Program for the Partnership for Southern Equity. She provides leadership, strategy, and coaching to ensure the program achieves its energy equity goals and optimizes its impact in the community. She works in partnership with environmental and equity organizations throughout the American South to engage diverse communities around issues of energy inequity, democracy and climate justice. She was previously a Program Manager for Southface Energy Institute. 
  • Nate Hausman is a CESA Project Director working on solar policy. He coordinates a multi-state initiative to develop solar in locations that provide benefits to the grid, and previously led a project to educate stakeholders on ensuring that distributed solar electricity remains consumer friendly and benefits LMI households. In 2018, he was named to Renewable Energy World’s Solar 40 Under 40 list, which recognizes solar energy leaders under the age of 40. He holds a JD with a certificate in Environmental & Natural Resources Law. 
  • Berneece Herbert is Interim Chair and Program Coordinator for the Department of Community & Regional Planning at Alabama A&M University, a public land-grant institution with a deep commitment to opportunity for underserved populations. She holds a PhD in natural resources and environmental sciences. Before joining the university, she worked for a consulting firm and was a Senior Urban Planner and Director of the Department of Statistics and Economic Planning for the Nevis island government. She is being joined in the project by colleagues Samson Chama (Associate Professor, Dept. of Social Work, Psychology & Counseling), Jacob Oluwoye (Professor, Community and Regional Planning), and Tonya Perry (Chair, Dept. of Social Work, Psychology & Counseling). 
  • Nicole Hernandez Hammer is a sea-level researcher, climate change expert and environmental justice advocate. A Guatemalan immigrant, she works to address the disproportionate impacts of climate change on communities across the US. Most recently, she served as the climate science and community advocate at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She was the Florida field manager for Moms Clean Air Force and an environmental blogger for Latina Lista. Before that, she was the assistant director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University, and coordinated the Florida Climate Institute’s state university consortium.
  • Warren Leon is CESA’s Executive Director. He oversees the organization’s day-to-day operations and leads strategy development. He has produced many reports for CESA, including Clean Energy Champions: The Importance of State Programs and Policies. Prior to working for CESA, he was Director of the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, Executive Director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, and Deputy Director for Programs at the Union of Concerned Scientists. 
  • Tony Reames is Assistant Professor at University of Michigan’s School for Environment & Sustainability. His research focuses on energy justice, exploring disparities in residential energy generation, consumption, and affordability. Among his many publications are “Targeting Energy Justice” and “A Community-Based Approach to Low-Income Residential Energy Efficiency Participation Barriers.” He has a PhD in public admin. and an MS in engineering management. 

  • Rob Sanders is Senior Finance Director for CESA and Clean Energy Group. With over 25 years of experience in community development and energy-related commercial finance, he has deep expertise in designing, implementing, and evaluating financing programs, financial products, and related services in the areas of clean energy and sustainable community development. He was formerly Managing Director of Energy Finance for The Reinvestment Fund, a leading innovator in the financing of neighborhood and economic revitalization.